Why We Stay in 'not good enough' Marriages
It is very difficult to leave a 'not good enough' relationship. All around us we see other couples sticking it out with more severe problems and we think, "it could be worse". So we try some more... then more time passes. Beliefs around the devastation of broken homes, failed marriages and damaged children who inherit lifelong relations issues are deeply engrained in our cultural conditioning.
I wouldn't say my marriage was "bad", per say. It was a LOT of work from day one. Literally from our first year we were attending personal development workshops regularly to help us be healthier partners. However, living in a relationship that is barely bearable and not improving is not a place to live if you seek to flourish. More than anything, he was/is a great Dad and our kids were really the glue that held us together. However, that meant I had to sacrifice what I needed for me. So when I fully integrated that I was worthy of better love, I had to go. It got to the point that I knew in my heart that I was a good wife and friend an overall great partner, but I deserved better. I deserved to have it be easier, less struggle. I deserve to have a supportive partner. I got to the point that I would rather be alone than stick it out in a ‘not good enough’ relationship.
Here are some beliefs that held me back for many years…
1. Fear of the unknown. This is prevalent in many areas from finances: ‘will I be able to manage financially?’ to ‘will I ever find love again?’. The doubts and fears are a real roadblock when it comes to moving on. And maybe the doubts are something that never fully go away, but something you learn to manage— or mostly overcome by the courage you gain from moving forward in spite of them.
2. Do we even deserve something better? A lot of times, we stay with what we’ve got because we either don’t believe we deserve better, or in my case-- I held doubts that I would be able to experience something better in the future. Maybe we even feel like we are being greedy, or demanding too much. I had one meltdown in the process of separating where I berated myself, questioning: 'I am willing to put my kids through this because I believe I deserve something better? How selfish does that make me??' But I wasn't willing to let myself die a slow death for the alternative. Protecting the kids while I suffer, is not good parenting either. I did my best at trying to make the best of things for too long. Overlooking things that I shouldn't have, turning the other cheek too often because I knew addressing the issues would effect no change. My coping mechanism was to find fulfillment in every other area of my life while the relationship remained sub-par. At some point I wanted my relationship to be as amazing as the other aspects of my life. And the bottom line was I didnt want to try anymore. If 18+ years of trying didn't improve things, what are the chances, right?
3. We don’t want to rock the boat. It is really hard to disrupt the flow of life. You have your home, your job, your whole life established. Getting out a relationship changes everything, from moving to altering family dynamics and often changing friend groups. Yes, your married friends may treat you differently now. But what you don’t realize before you leave, is the freedom that opens up to you. You can be friends with people you wouldn’t have otherwise. Single people can have opposite sex friends which in most relationships makes everyone uncomfortable. You have more time to invest in friendships and broadening your connections to others. You can travel and stay with people and its never an imposition! Even establishing your own space is so satisfying on so many levels. Not having to take another persons tastes and preferences into account is very freeing! Establishing my new life was so much more enjoyable than I’d ever imagined, even though it also came with sacrificing some friendships as well. You have no idea the weight that lifts when the negativity you have carried from the relationship is suddenly gone!
4. We don’t want to disappoint our family/friends or let people down. We feel this responsibility to be a role model, to keep things together because we know our families will be sad, hurt and maybe confused by our choice to leave. It is also difficult to break in-law bonds that have been in place for so many years. But guess what? We are born to adapt. It doesn't feel terrible forever. There is an adjustment period, things feel weird for a while depending how quick you are at adapting. Navigating how to be in each others lives, at family gatherings, birthdays etc. may take some time, but we deal with it. It is all manageable. It can be done with no drama. Especially if you can always focus on the love you have for the other people in your life (kids/relatives) that keep you coming together, even though you are no longer a couple. My ex and I never had a period of time where we refused to be in each others company. The love we have for our kids will always be the priority and we will always come together for them. Within the same month of me moving out we attended school events and ceremonies and sat together. We are not a couple, but having kids together means we are still a family. Choosing to be amicable and friends is the healthiest thing we can do for ourselves and our kids.
5. We don’t want to inflict pain on our kids. This is absolutely the hardest thing to “get over”. No parent wants to hurt their kids. When I watched Bruce Jenner’s (pre-Caitlyn Jenner) emotional interview with Diane Sawyer, I cried because I could totally understand his wanting to protect his kids from hurt, pain, embarrassment etc. But bottom line is, when we get to a point that it is literally killing you inside to go along with the way things are, that is when you know— you have to be true to you. Our kids do not want us to sacrifice our lives, our happiness, our goals for them. (Although if you asked them they may say they would!) But what kind of life are you modelling for your kids by staying in a less than good relationship? Personally, I want to model good love and positive supportive partnership for my kids, even if I couldn't achieve that with their Dad. Because we have been mature adults about the whole thing, our kids have not been subjected to the negativity that typically surrounds divorce. When I asked my 11 year old how his life has changed over the past year since the separation, he said its a hassle going back and forth, because sometimes he forgets stuff. But he likes spending time in each place, because its different. He gets different needs met at each place, he likes that he doesn't always have to be with all of his siblings together (we mix them up and separate them). He doesn't feel sad that we are not together and doesn't wish we would get back together (which I find strange because we were not fighters). He said, we are happier. I think we are better parents because we are happier. Rather than working to diffuse the negativity between us, we can channel our energy into happier/healthier relationships with our kids.
Separating doesn't have to be dramatic or traumatic. You can choose to be emotionally mature, for the sake of all the other relationships (kids, friends, in-laws). That means processing your sadness and lonelyness, beign real abotu how you feel without acting out all over the place--especially in front of the kids.
When you fully acknowledge the fact that you deserve to be deeply loved, supported, and cherished you will find the courage to take the next step to attain it.